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One-on-One with Sou Fujimoto

Giulia Callegari catches up with Sou Fujimoto, who was in Hong Kong recently to speak at Business of Design Week (BODW).

One-on-One with Sou Fujimoto


December 31st, 2013

From the Serpentine Gallery pavilion in London to his cutting edge residential projects in Japan, Sou Fujimoto’s body of work makes him one of the most compelling contemporary architects today. Here, he tells us more about his home, his projects, thoughts architecture and industrial design, and more.

Sou Fujimoto

Serpentine pavilion © Serpentine Gallery

To break the ice, may I ask you to describe the house you live in?

It’s a usual apartment in Tokyo… The thing is, for now, I really don’t want to design my house because that would become an endless project and process. I would start getting ideas on top of ideas: it’d be a crazy process… Maybe I would like some of my favorite architects to design my house, as they like!

So which architect would you choose?

Frank Gehry! He is one of my favourites.

Along with?

It’s hard to say, there are many contemporary architects I look at like Sejima, Ito… but I was more influenced by the classical maestros, say van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, whom I studied at university.

Sou Fujimoto

House NA. Photo © Iwan Baan


House NA 2011. Photo © Iwan Baan

Did you always want to be an architect?

At the beginning of my studies I wanted to become a physicist like Einstein. Einstein was my hero! It seemed like a really creative profession: in the end it’s about the understanding of the whole world. When I got into university I understood my brain was not ‘powerful’ enough for that and at the same time I wanted to design and create something… so I shifted to architecture.

Sou Fujimoto

House O

What are you currently working on?

Oh many things! Fortunately I have over 20 projects happening… and all different: from a really small bus stop to private houses to small and large art museums. The biggest ongoing project is in Taiwan, where we are designing a 300-metre-high tower. I really like to maintain variety among my projects, from very small things to bigger things, with different purposes.

Sou Fujimoto

Proposal for Taiwan Tower. Rendering © Sou Fujimoto

What do you think about the relationship between industrial design and architecture?

I think it’s really interesting. Just recently I started designing furniture. I really enjoy working on such projects, because I think architecture is about life as a whole, so designing objects and things related to life is incredibly important. But I am not sure I have the talent to design objects and furniture… You will be able to judge in 2015, when the furniture project launches.

You work with a lot of natural elements. How do you feel about nature today?

Nature is really important to me, especially thoughts around how we integrate natural and artificial elements in our daily lives. For me this integration is a big topic: it’s not about using nature to beautify artificial things, but it’s really about working to combine elements and seeing how they relate to each other. For me creating something like nature through artificial things is a big challenge, or even better, creating something beyond nature and beyond architecture – which combines the two elements together.

Su Fujomoto

House Before House. Photo © Sou Fujimoto

We’ve heard you have quite an opinion on Zaha Hadid’s Tokyo Stadium project?

Actually that’s not correct. I was chatting with a journalist in Singapore and told her what was going on, I did not sign the petition… But when the journalist wrote the article she made it sound like I was supporting the opinions I was reporting. Big misunderstanding! Maybe due to my English skills… Anyway as you know Mr Maki started the discussion, because he has worked on several projects in that area of Tokyo and he thinks Zaha’s project somehow does not fit well with the environment. I know Zaha has been talking to the client about shrinking the stadium, but ultimately she won the competition and she should work on her project… I am sure Zaha will be able to build one of her masterpieces and make it fit with the environment too. I was recently in Rome and was really impressed by MAXXI.

Speaking of Rome, you travel very often don’t you?

Yes! Unfortunately I am always traveling for work, but seeing different cities and different cultures is really great source of inspiration to me. Traveling is the source of many of my creations. Next year I am planning to go to some places where I have never been before and I really look forward to that.

Sou Fujimoto

Wooden House. Photo © Iwan Baan

Talking about past and future, how do you feel about your past work?

Of course I am changing and my design style is changing. But I know the thinking and conceptual flow behind my work is continuous. How this flow becomes architecture may be different at each stage: ten years ago I was not quite experienced so when I look at some of the work I feel a bit frustrated, I think now I could make it better! However, sometimes I get inspiration from my past work: I start to rethink and recreate some of it to make it something new. So it’s not bad to have a series of less good works!

What do you think about the permanence of what you do? A lot of new buildings come and old ones are destroyed. What do we keep and what do we get rid of?

When some of my projects are demolished it’s a bit sad for me, but at the same time I know that the concept, the idea behind that building will continue to live. With the media, people in the future will be able to see our work and use it to create something else.

Of course I still hope some great buildings will remain so they can stratify in a city and create layers of time, diversity, mixture, history. Ultimately the richness of a city lies in that stratification, but I know we have to follow the flow of our time… so I just look forward.

Sou Fujimoto


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